Couples who enter into pre- or post-marital agreements with their eyes open and with the benefit of legal advice can expect to be bound by them. The High Court made that point in a so-called 'big money' divorce case in which an extremely wealthy woman's assets dwarfed those of her ex-husband.
Before their relatively brief marriage, the wife's net assets were already valued at about £50 million. The husband's net assets were worth about £225,000, plus a small pension and modest employment income. The wife's wealth, which was entirely derived from her family, later swelled to £250 million.
They entered into pre- and post-marital agreements by which the wife undertook, amongst other things, that in the event of their relationship permanently breaking down, she would meet the husband's reasonable housing needs until any children of the marriage reached adulthood or completed full-time education.
The husband agreed that he would have no claim against the wife's assets and that she would have no obligation to pay him maintenance. The agreements specifically stated that the husband's reasonable needs were met by their terms and that the principle of asset sharing should not apply in the event of divorce.
Ruling on the financial aspects of their divorce, the Court noted that the agreements were in entirely conventional terms and contained a warning that the couple should not sign them unless they intended to be bound by their terms. The husband could have been under no illusions as to the extent of the wife's wealth and had received independent advice as to the effect of the agreements on his rights.
It was not a long marriage and the couple could have done no more to make clear their intentions as to what should happen in the event of separation in terms of their assets and the issue of spousal maintenance. In making financial orders designed to meet the husband's reasonable housing and income needs, the Court ruled that the agreements should carry full weight and were largely decisive as to the outcome.